It just happened again. Seattle billionaire Steve Ballmer and his wife gave $250,000 in support of Initiative 594. That’s a measure on the November ballot in Washington State that would require background checks before private gun purchases and transfers. According to state filings, this is on top of $580,000 they gave earlier, and $1 million coughed up by joint billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates, plus $500,000 from billionaire Paul Allen.
All told, the supporters of Initiative 594, operating under the banner Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, have raised $7.4 million so far for their fall media blitz. In Washington State politics this is a lot of moolah. This compares with the paltry $1.2 million, raised by Protect Our Gun Rights, which is backing a rival ballot measure, Initiative 591. That would prohibit Washington State background checks for private purchases beyond the current federal rules, meaning there would be none.
Strong gun control is generally a liberal cause, and Seattle is a liberal town (even though there seem to be a lot of legal guns, and legal gun owners, here). But limits on political contributions is also a liberal cause. What is striking to me is the lack of hooting and hollering around Seattle about tycoons opening their checkbooks for contributions in obscene amounts to influence public policy–so long as that influence is in a liberal direction.
I contrast this silence with the screaming by liberals in Seattle and elsewhere about all the resources poured by the conservative Koch brothers into various campaigns. “The Koch brothers of this world will do and say anything in order to kill this movement in its tracks,” railed a writer at The Stranger, Seattle’s leading alternative weekly, in a typical liberal comment about their ultimately unsuccessful opposition to a $15-an-hour minimum wage in the suburban City of Seatac.
If big money in politics is in itself a bad thing, it shouldn’t make any difference what causes are being pushed. But in certain corners of Seattle, at least, it apparently does.
The same kind of silence happened two years ago in the run-up to the somewhat narrow voter approval of Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage in Washington State. A decidedly liberal cause, it lost in 29 of Washington State’s 39 counties, including all but one of the 20 counties east of the Cascades. The measure passed due solely to a better than 2-to-1 majority in populous King County, where the New To Seattle world headquarters is located.
Billionaire Jeff Bezos, the boss of Seattle-based Amazon.com, and his wife gave $2.5 million, by far the largest contribution of the $12.6 million raised by Washington United for Marriage. “This is right for so many reasons,” Bezos wrote an ex-employee who solicited a contribution.
Those who dislike Koch money like to complain loudly the bros are feathering their own economic nest. This is probably so, but I have no reason to believe the Kochs don’t sincerely hold the anti-regulatory, anti-tax views they support with their cash.
Similarly, I don’t have any reason to think that Bezos, sometimes described as a libertarian politically, doesn’t personally find merit in same-sex marriage. But I recall no talk in 2012 of possible other economic considerations like I do whenever the Koch brothers are discussed by liberals. Bezos runs a big business in the middle of an epic hiring binge centered around Seattle. Anything he could do to increase the supply of applicants–like, say, not get in the way of lifestyle choices–would improve the quality of his workforce and maybe even reduce what he has to pay new hires.
The logical result: a better bottom line, which Amazon certainly needs. Perhaps that’s one of those “so many reasons” Bezos wrote about without elaboration.
In any event, don’t expect for the rest of the campaign to hear much liberal kvetching in Seattle about those liberal big-money contributions. But the silence will be deafening.